Written by Fernanda Siordia
As an 8th grade Xicana, knowing about myself and my people is important – what they have been through to obtain the little privilege we receive. Knowing myself has been easy, but the difficult thing is trying to explain myself to others. Teaching ourselves about our privilege is important – understanding that we receive advantages and disadvantages because of who we are. My friend is a good example of acknowledging privilege. She is half white, half Mexican and she acknowledges that she is privileged in being white and that she faces disadvantages being Mexican.
Knowing about privilege helps you to better understand who you are and become knowledgeable about different backgrounds.
Privilege: /ˈpriv(ə)lij/ A social, structural, and institutional advantage.
Everyone has privilege. Everyone has at least one advantage. Whether it is because of being, straight, cisgender, male, etc. we all have some sort of privilege and it’s important to acknowledge that. An easier way of understanding it is by examining thoughts you have (or don’t have) before doing something. For a person with a disability, they have to often think: “Will this location have wheelchair accessible buildings?” or “Will there be an interpreter at the theatre?” As for women, they have to think: “Will this dress draw anyone’s attention in a negative way?” Or for a black person: “While wearing this hoodie, will I be perceived as “bad” or a threat?” It is important to check your privilege.
Of course, someone’s initial reaction to being told they have privilege is a negative one, because everyone has struggles in a way. It can be because of gender, sexuality, mental illness, etc. But being told to “check your privilege” is a simple reminder to realize that your background and life are different, and of course it doesn’t mean you haven’t struggled. And when someone asks you to acknowledge your privilege, don’t rely on them educating you on this subject. Your education is your responsibility and how you use it, is up to you.
Questions you can ask yourself to check your privilege are: What sorts of things do I take for granted as a member of a privileged group? How are my experiences different from those of a disadvantaged group? White people have the most privilege among all other races. The term “white privilege” means that white people have a set of advantages that they benefit from on a daily basis beyond those common to all others. People often don’t know what this means and aren’t conscious of it and that lack of awareness can continue to promote racial hierarchy in the US. What white privilege has lead to in America is that we enforce negative stereotypes on people of color. We live in a society where being white is the ideal and safest way to live. We don’t get to choose whether we are white or look white.
So why is being of color treated as wrong? What is happening in the US is that rich white people are even telling poor white people that poorer people of color are causing all of their problems. People of color are the scapegoats. Take a look at Donald Trump. He claims that Mexico is “sending people that have lots of problems” to America including “rapists, drug runners, and other criminals.” He has no evidence to back these claims, but he is given a voice and currently leading in the polls as the Republican presidential candidate. He is showing his ignorance when it comes to history, reality and his white privilege, but not enough people recognize that he is further promoting racial heirarchy and using his white privilege to dominate and disadvantage people of color even further.
Examples of white privilege are that white people feel safer with the police and law enforcement than people of color. When Dylan Roof (the man who attacked a black church in Charleston) was arrested, he was taken with care to Burger King before he was arrested. But when a black teenage girl was using her phone in class, she was dragged to the floor by a police officer. When a white person opens up a magazine or turns on the television, their race will most definitely be widely represented. When a person of color looks to the media, they often see stereotypes and little representation of their racial identity. When a famous person of color wants to represent their culture and share it, they are often shamed and mocked for it. For example, when Zendaya wore her hair in dreads, she was criticized and bombarded with racial stereotypes. But when a white person does it, they are often praised. For example, when Miley Cyrus wore dreads (cultural appropriation), she was praised as being innovative.
The likelihood of a white person going to jail is 4%-11%, but for people of color that rate is increased to 44%-50%. There is 5% more chance for a white male with a criminal record to get a job than a person of color with a clean record. 82%- 91% of homicides are intraracial (examples of white people killing white people or people of color killing people of color), but major news stations focus on interracial homicides 60% of the time. The only way not to be ignorant or racist is to educate yourself. Educating yourself can grow your knowledge and open your eyes to help you analyze things with a greater perspective. Next time someone tells you to “check your privilege,” don’t get defensive. Get educated! Acknowledge the privilege you have and become an ally to those who are disadvantaged.